Category Archives: Avalanche Awareness

Opportunities present in a dry December

The driest December in this area since measurements began in 1864 created new challenges for a mountain guide like myself. I could have behaved like Chicken Little and believed the end was near, or rather taken advantage of those conditions. The foehn episode that dried the northern Alps in November, coated the southern Alps with a lovely layer of fresh powder. Living close to that main divide here in Verbier, my clients and I profited from the situation, ski touring and heliskiing in the south, and hiking and climbing in the north.

For those who enjoy being outside no matter the weather and conditions, I’ve found it so rewarding to share these mini adventures with you. Thank you! The following 20 pictures show some of our days together on skis, skins and foot, enjoying what mother nature provides.

Winter!

October snows, leading to November snows, leading to December sun! Conditions are excellent at altitude, resembling prime alpine conditions of spring time. A stable snowpack in the high mountains has stuck to many of the icey faces that often don’t see snow until spring. Isolated areas, protected from the November Foehn winds, give rise to primo conditons for steep skiing in boot top powder.

For those of you who have heard about the ISTA method of avalanche training, I am a certified ISTA instructor, offering group and private avalanche courses. After spending a few days with me, talking about snow metamorphism and slope analysis, you will feel more capable to understand and analyse the untracked slopes you want ski.

This gorgeous weather is forecasted to be with us for another week, when this high pressure system should weaken, allowing more humidity to make its way onto the continent. Have fun skiing that boot top pow!

Autumn Thoughts

As the cold rain pitter patters outside my window, it’s snow at altitude, shutting down my current summer alpine dreams. My thoughts skim back over these past few days, weeks and into last year’s snows. It’s been a fun and relaxing summer with family, friends, and clients, new and old.

Fi and I mixed it up, climbing the Nadelhorn last week, then spending a wonderful day on the Jagihorn, cruising up delightful granit under a warm, blue sky.

Fiona near the summit of the Nadelhron

Fiona near the summit of the Nadelhorn

Hans Ahead

Yours truly nearing the summit of the Nadelhorn.

Fi climbing on the Jagihorn

Fi climbing high on the Jagihorn

I had some nice days with my two “kids” on local rock.

Anya climbing local rock

Anya climbing local rock

And a super week with Susan, preparing for the Matterhorn.

Susan Dennard on the top of the Matterhorn.

Susan Dennard on the top of the Matterhorn.

I’m preparing for another fun winter season, scheduling early winter avalanche courses and off-piste ski days. Contact me as soon as you know your winter schedule so we can share more fun adventures together. Maybe we’ll get another November start like last year’s!

Opening day Verbier- Winter 2015/16

Merry Christmas!

I wish you a cozy Merry Christmas, happy and content within you, surrounded by friends and family, whether they are close or afar, and lots of joy in the coming new year.

From our avalanche awareness course, to these past few days on split boards, the beautiful, sunny skies have given us ideal conditions for moving about in these mountains. The snow cover is thin, low tide indeed! But with expectations low, the reality of linking turns for 700 meters of vertical decent in boot top powder is pure joy, shared with happy free riders.

After half a day of lecture on the evolution and metamorphism of snow on the ground, we moved outside to skin over varied terrain and talk about route choices up and down, slope aspect, altitude, terrain, and snow pit analysis. My 6 students were so keen to absorb everything we talked about, creating a desire in me to add more and more stuff to the curriculum. Thanks to James for this link to an interesting article on what it means to be an avalanche expert. As my instructor Werner Munter once said, “Beware avalanche expert, the avalanche doesn’t know you are an expert.”

Most recently, I have been out riding with Duncan and his son on a snowboard. What a joy that has been! Thanks to K2 and their new Quicker system on the Ultra Split snowboard, I have been enjoying my passion for surfing at a level I couldn’t achieve before. The whole set up must be lighter than any other split out there today. (My client is on the Jones Carbon, which is renowned for being light, and it’s heavier than my K2.) This weight issue has been big deal for me, wondering if I would take my regular board or split. And the shape of this new board makes it by far the most forgiving and pleasant board to ride yet. It’s so quick and easy to go from ride to skin mode. I’m even breaking it apart for the traverse along the Cleuson lake to skate on the two sections!

We are in an intense episode of high winds from the south, the Foehn. If it does stop, we may see a few centimeters of snow. My finger are crossed! It will be dicey out there if it does snow substantially. The facetted snow we are skiing on now, will not offer much support for the weight of the new snow. Let’s hope for a big dump which will create spontaneous avalanches on all aspects before we can get there to trigger them ourselves.